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Monday, June 8, 1998 Published at 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK

World: Americas

Colombian president hails drug arrest

Alberto Orlandez is taken away by police following his arrest

President Samper of Colombia has hailed the arrest of one of the country's most wanted men, Alberto Orlandez Gamboa, who is known as El Caracol or the Snail.

Colombian police say they arrested Orlandez the head of the one of the country's most important drug trafficking rings in the coastal town of Barranquilla.

Mr Samper said the arrest of Orlandez, who is also wanted in the United States, was the latest evidence of his government's committment to the war against illegal drugs.

The Colombian leader was speaking in New York where he is attending a United Nations conference on the drugs trade.

Orlandez is alleged to be the head of the Coast Cartel, and is described as one of the last of a generation of drugs bosses who operated large, high profile cartels controlling all stages of the cocaine trade.

At the time of his arrest, he was protected by only one bodyguard who put up no resistance.

A major coup

National Police chief General Rosso Jose Serrano said Orlandez was at the top of the "most wanted" list in Colombia.

"I'm very happy about this capture because it practically puts an end to the large (Colombian drug) organisations," he said.

Orlandez faces charges in Colombia of drug trafficking, money laundering and document forgery, but is also wanted in the US where a South Florida judge has indicted him on five drug-related charges.

A battle not yet won

Police says the Coast Cartel operated a network of smuggling rings along Colombia's Caribbean coast and had close links with drug gangs in Mexico and Central America.

After an earlier arrest in Colombia, Orlandez was detained for nearly two years before being released when all the charges were mysteriously dropped.

The BBC correspondent in Colombia says that despite this latest arrest and a number of other recent police successes against crime organisations, more cocaine and heroin are being produced than before, and new alliances with Nigerian, Italian and Russian gangs have built up a powerful international smuggling network.

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